Out of Hibernation (and into the New Year)

It’s been some time since my last blog. I came back from my trip to Amsterdam to a busy November and December. Between end-of-year deadlines at work, Christmas shopping and my sessions with my trainer (among other things), my schedule seemed practically non-stop. This blog ended up being a casualty of my limited time.

I have been making some great progress with my personal training sessions. I’m being pushed in ways I hadn’t been pushed physically before, and while it’s been a challenge, I feel like it is starting to pay off. I feel stronger, and I’ve noticed that my posture is better. I’ve been doing planks as part of my strength training regime, and I noticed today that I can hold the planks longer. Getting in cardio has been somewhat of a challenge due to time and energy. I’m still not quite where I want to be with running — in fact, I’ve been dealing with some Achilles and plantars fascitis, plus trying to tame an IT band that has a mind of its own. I’m doing what I can, though.

Given that it’s a new year, I’ve been thinking over the goals I want to achieve this year — the priority goal, obviously, is to get back in shape and be ready to train for the Houston Marathon when the new season of Katy Fit starts this July. This weekend, I’ve been examining other personal goals for 2015 that I would like to tackle, such as saving more money, making time to write and play music for fun and to read (I’m doing another book challenge that started New Year’s Day, so this should help with the latter goal).

I did get to take some time off between Christmas and New Year’s, and all I wanted to do was sleep. I felt like an animal in hibernation! I did need it, though it felt strange to be doing so little after being so busy. Even though the sun was actually out today, I slept late and was slow to wake up this Sunday. But I’m ready to come back out of hibernation and tackle the new challenges of a new year, including new opportunities at work and my ongoing efforts to regain my physical strength.

To achieve my goals, I’m stealing an idea from a friend. She wrote down her goals for last year in a notebook, which she would revisit periodically to see whether she was on track with those goals. I’m planning to do this — hopefully, I can stay on track as well.

Whatever your goals are in 2015, I wish you the best of luck in achieving them!

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Cross Training

I had a great time in California this past weekend, catching up with my oldest and dearest friend and college roommate. Like we always do, we packed a ton of stuff into a long weekend — great food and wine, the Katy Perry concert, quality beach time, museum exhibits, grape stomping (which my friend says is how they cross train in California) and a movie.

My visit started with breakfast in Hermosa Beach (like we have the past few visits), and finished with me shaking sand from my feet before we left Zooma Beach in Malibu so she could drive me to the airport. I actually was wearing my swimsuit under my clothes for the flight home, but it was definitely worth it! I always take an extra day since I usually fly home late and need time to recover, but the marathon of fun is one race I’m always up for.

As promised, I have pictures! Here are a couple of my favorites — my first time every stomping grapes at Lorimar Winery in Temecula, California, and seeing the space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Museum.

Endeavour

Grape Stomping

We also caught up each other on our lives. I’ve gone to visit her every year since she moved to California eight years ago, and we always just pick right back up in terms of conversation. We can laugh and joke as we always have, and talk about everything. Or we’re fine just driving in the car, listening to our iPods. That’s the mark of a true friend — someone you can talk with about anything, but with whom you can also enjoy moments of silence.

She got engaged over the summer, so we talked about plans for her upcoming wedding (I’m one of her bridesmaids) and toured some wineries where she was thinking about holding an exchange of vows ceremony/reception. I talked with her about my recent major surgery, and about some major decisions I may have to make in the next few months.  In addition to getting married, she may have a major change on the horizon with her work later this year. So it was great to be able to speak with someone who’s also going through major changes.

It was good to vent, and it was just good to have fun — to stomp grapes, to go on a hayride, to watch Guardians of the Galaxy, to sample macaroons at Bottega Louie (apparently, they’re very well-known for their macaroons — even my co-worker said she wanted to visit them someday). I also got some Vitamin D and color at the beach — since I haven’t been running, I haven’t been out in the sun as much. It’s funny that I’m finally getting more of a tan with fall officially underway, but better late than never!

In short, I got caught up with some quality friend and vacation time. I’m still behind with other things (including getting my car inspected — I was driving home from church, and suddenly realized it expires on Tuesday), and October will be a busy month for work, but I definitely got a good dose of fun and relaxation. I’m back to my physical therapy and cross training, but it felt good to ‘cross train’ with some grape stomping and fun.

During one of our talks, as I wondered aloud about the choices I had made, I lamented the fact that I’m 41. But I loved the perspective she had to offer — sure, we’re in our early 40s, but we’re likely only about halfway through our lives. It made me hopeful for the future. That, and the fact that my back feels like it is slowly but surely healing, is making me confident that the second half of the marathon called life will be filled with good miles, good friends, and plenty more good times.

The Challenge of Fun

I once again find myself playing the waiting game. My surgery is scheduled for the last week of August, and the day can’t come fast enough for me. Of course, this past week dragged at work, especially the afternoons. I wasn’t the only one who was watching the clock, trying to mentally move the hands until Friday afternoon finally rolled around. But for me, it was especially long, waiting for August 27 — a day that I hope will bring a new beginning for me as a runner. It also seems to be passing quickly as I try to wrap up work projects before I leave for my time off. I’m still wondering if I’ll get it all done.

I’ve spent so much time training for races, I’m used to having a schedule to follow and a big goal ahead. It’s strange to feel like I’m adrift, headed to a new and hopefully great horizon. Like when I’m at the starting line of a race, waiting and anxious to see what unfolds.

To distract myself (and satisfy the Type A overachiever side of me), I’ve found myself trying to challenge myself with new sources of fun. One major fun challenge I’m pursuing is a book challenge. Reading as always been a way for me to recharge and escape – now I’m pursuing it like a sport.

I got involved in the challenge after reconnecting with a high school acquaintance. She now lives in Australia, and decided to host a book challenge among her friends and family on Facebook. People from almost every continent are involved – it’s good to know there are still lots of people out there who like to read for fun!

From July 1 to October 31, each participant must read 10 books, one for a different category. The categories range from a book that is at least 200 pages long, a book with a color in its title, a biography or autobiography, a book in a series, a book by an Australian author, and a book with a one word title. Each category is worth a certain number of points.

I read constantly when I was younger. Many times in the summer, I would stay up until nearly dawn, caught up in a book I was eager to finish. But the older I get and the more time I spend at a desk each day, it gets harder and harder to muster the enthusiasm or energy to read for fun at home. Other times, I’m so busy playing catch up on chores, laundry, or bills that I don’t have time. I still read a lot compared with people I know, but my days of marathon reading are definitely behind me until retirement!

I’m proud to report that I’ve read five out of the 10 books I said I would read.  The girl hosting the challenge is beating us all, I think. In fact, she just released a bonus category – if I remember correctly, it’s the same categories again, but you can also get bonus points if you select books that other people picked for their original challenge lists. Let me put it this way — if you could qualify for Boston by reading, she would be a shoo-in.

My Challenge of Fun is a way to distract myself from running (it’s sort of working, but at least I’m not going as crazy as I was before). It’s so easy to get caught up with the list of must dos, that I find myself not planning for the fun things I want to do, including reading for fun. For the past few years, running has been a way to exercise, have fun and relieve stress, but given my current issues, I’m looking for other ways to fill these needs. The challenge has been a fun way of ensuring I get my fill of reading stuff other than oil and gas, and to connect with bookworms around the world.

I hear people talking about needing to challenge themselves in terms of fitness, work goals, or other things. Why not a challenge of fun? It’s not the same as the spontaneous fun I had when I was a kid — playing outside all day with the neighbors kids, playing hide and seek or hanging out on the jungle gym or in the treehouse. But I’m okay with extending my to-do list to get the fun I need.

The Final Deadline

I don’t know if it’s my age, or the fact that I’m just busier, but the days seem longer and fuller as I move along the journey of life. From the moment I get up to the moment I put my head on my pillow, my mind is constantly moving down the list of things I need to do that – interviews for work, errands, prescriptions to pick up, gym clothes and lunch to pack, emails to answer. It’s almost like I’m never really in the moment – I’m either thinking ahead to what comes next, or I’m thinking about what I should have done, in order to meet the next deadline, whether it’s a feature for work or a running workout or getting my car inspected.

When I passed the 4-0 mark last year, I started evaluating what I had done with my life, and what I really wanted to do with the rest of my time. Like everyone, I don’t know how long I’ll live, but I started thinking, if my eventual life span is 80, then I’m at the halfway point. Out of all the things I wanted to do, what will I regret the most if I don’t check it off my list? What are the things that I thought were important, but realize now that I’m happy never came to fruition?

To steal a quote from The Shawshank Redemption, I suddenly felt like I needed to break out of my rut and either ‘get busy living or get busy dying’. The dying part may seem overly dramatic, but in a way, it’s true. I once heard that we’re born dying (I think even in the biological sense we are dying as we live, our cells breaking down and die as we age), and it’s easy to think you have all the time in the world when you’re 20. But the gap between 20 and 40 almost seems like a blur now. Two decades is nothing, when you think about it.

The bottom line is, we spend so much of our time rushing around, trying to meet the various deadlines we are tasked with meeting, that it’s easy to forget about the biggest deadline of all – the final deadline. The deadline where we take our last breath and move on to heaven (or whatever you think the next stage is after we die). Unlike other deadlines, we never know what the exact date or time of this deadline will be. Will it come suddenly in an accident, or slowly as disease ravages us? Will the deadline come too soon, in our youth, or will we pass the century mark?

Like other deadlines, we should be thinking ahead about what we need to accomplish to meet our own final deadline. Did we accomplish everything we set out to do, whether it’s writing a book, running a marathon or climbing a mountain? Did we take time to show our families we love them, to let our friends know how important they are to us? Did we take the time to call our loved ones, to spend time with them while we could? Were we true to ourselves? Did we listen to our inner voice and take the road less traveled, or did we stay on the main path (and do we regret it?) Were we honest with ourselves about who we were and what we wanted? Was there that special someone who got away, or you were blessed to have found true love and a true partner in life?

It’s easy to get caught up in life and think, I can always do these things tomorrow. But the final deadline may be sooner than you expect – it may be tomorrow. So take the time to think about what you want – pencil it into your planner, if you think it will help. But as you plan your life around all the deadlines, make sure you’re working to meet the last and most important of all.

The Waiting Game

Earlier this month, I had a steroid shot in my lower back. The idea was to try and quiet the two bulging discs that my doctor believed not only have been giving me back pain on the lower left side, but have been causing all sorts of mischief in my left side. If one section of muscles isn’t angry, it’s something else – the IT band, the hip flexor and groin area, the lower back. Sometimes everyone’s irritated, and sometimes they’re quiet. It seems like it’s been one thing after another – an angry cacophony of muscles that won’t seem to shut up, and have stopped me in my tracks. Apparently, they’re fed up with me, and I’m fed up with them for not cooperating. I’m also getting fed up with the pool – if I spend much more time swimming, I swear I’ll grow gills! I don’t think that will be a good look for me.

Feeling old and achy is getting old, and the desire to be out on the trails as marathon training season starts up – and not feeling ready to do so – is frustrating. The seemingly unending rounds of physical therapy – first from my sports medicine doctor, then with the spinal specialist to whom I was referred – and the co-pays that go with them are mentally wearing, and just add more to my seemingly non-stop schedule. I just finished my second round of PT to go with the shot, and while there has been some improvement, I thought I would be feeling better than this. Monday, I’m consulting with a surgeon about possible surgery. I’m anxious to get things over with, but anxious about what he’ll say. Is surgery the answer, or is he just going to send me back for more shots and physical therapy?

During my last round of therapy, I started thinking about my journey to try and heal, to find the key that will literally unlock the angry muscles, is like a marathon in itself. It’s also like a game. I started thinking of Shoots and Ladders – the ladders where you make progress by finding the right doctor and the right treatment, and the shoots, where a relapse of pain or your insurance company saying you’ve reached your limit on the number of therapy visits they’ll pay for – sends you sliding back down. Some days, it’s a step forward, the next day, you feel like you’ve gone two steps back. Or you roll the dice and land on a space where you find out you’re getting a refund, or learn that you have a stress fracture and have to skip a turn. I’m wondering how many avenues I’m going to have to cross, on how many doors I’ll have to knock, to get an answer. And maybe there’s no one solution, and maybe the real solution is time, but the waiting game definitely does not appeal to me. Even with the 20 milers I’ve run, you always know the end is in sight when you’ve crossed back into Terry Hershey Park and are running the winding tree-lined trail back to the start. Who knows when this unwanted journey I’m on now will end.

For a long time, running was a way for me not only to exercise, but to blow off steam and center myself. I find myself now trying to de-stress and re-center myself in other ways. But nothing beats the running. At times, I think I used to take it for granted, but now, I would give anything for a bad running day – a humid day where I run low on fluids or have to make an emergency pit stop in the woods. I would embrace it all, even the blisters.

My mother – who still sends me home with coupons, newspaper clippings and articles with advice, and leftovers – gave me for my last birthday a copy of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. My mother, knowing that I’m being tested in a lot of areas of my life right now, thought it would help. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book with some great gems of wisdom. But what do you do if there’s just so much small stuff? And what if the best way to deal with the small stuff is by working up a good sweat? I’m still working on that answer as the waiting game goes on.